How good news broke my heart
On dating for validation
I want to start by saying that I’ve spent the vast majority of my life feeling like an underwhelmingly average ugly duckling.
I remember feeling this way for the first time in fourth grade. I was around nine years old. There was a kid in my class who had the same name as me.
The other Michael was a lot like me. Only better. We both made straight As in everything ever, but that was about where my ability to keep up ended. I once shin-checked a guy when I played soccer (for a team that lost every single game, except for one in which we tied). Michael was on the football team (and the baseball team, and the basketball team…).
I had two best friends plus a small circle of outcasts that thought I was really cool. Michael was the most popular kid in school.
We were both much taller than average, but I was stick-thin, while he actually fit his body.
My dad made a good amount of money, but we still lived in a neighborhood that was ever-so-slightly lower-class than Michael did.
I tried to learn the guitar at one point, but gave up trying to tune it. If I had continued with lessons, he surely would have written a concerto within the week.
Basically, he was always that much better than I was.
It gets worse
High school was rough for me. I hit a bout of major depression when I was 13, and it kind of carried over for the next several years. I moved to New Mexico to start my freshman year, so I didn’t know anybody. I made a few friends, but they all moved out of town or dropped out within a couple months.
So I stayed a loner for a while. I had long, greasy hair. My skin totally rebelled. I was angry and unapproachable. I felt awkward, gross, and ugly. By then, my grades had dropped (depression’s a bitch).
I was a loser.
But factor in a certain level of stubborn, genetic badassery (thanks, mom) and an impressively large circle of incredibly supportive friends, and you get me as I am today: a bundle of insecurity, sunshine, and questionable choices.
Cue personal development
Over the last couple years, I’ve been working on recovering and rebuilding myself. I’m trying to get to the level of childish, naive confidence — you know, the kind of simple, comfortable existence that most kids have by virtue that they haven’t been instilled with self-doubt yet?
Ask a four-year-old a question, and in most cases, they’re going to have an answer without hesitation. Sometimes, they’ll be right. Most of the time, they’ll be hilariously wrong. Occasionally, they’ll even admit that they don’t know the answer.
But they won’t hesitate. If they know the answer, they’re happy to share it. If they’re going to make up an answer, they’ll do it with self-assurance. If they admit to ignorance, they won’t be judging themselves harshly for it. They won’t become self-critical and apologetic. They’re not going to call themselves stupid or spend the rest of the week indulging in self-hatred because they didn’t know the answer.
Because they’re kids. They’re dumb. They’re weird. They’re awkward. And they’re totally okay with it because we haven’t given them a list of reasons why they shouldn’t be.
But it’s hard to be that way when you’re an adult, when the world has taught you how flawed you are. I don’t know how to accept compliments. I get awkward and uncomfortable when people think I’m qualified to do things.
I’m finally starting to learn, but for a lot of my life, I’ve had no idea how to actually like myself.
So let’s talk dating
When I started dating a couple years ago, I lacked self-esteem. I relied heavily on compliments and opinions to shape my opinion of myself. I didn’t feel smart unless someone was praising my brainpower. I didn’t feel attractive unless I’d received a certain number of messages on Grindr.
And that meant my view of myself was flimsy.
If I sent a message to a guy and he didn’t respond, it had to be because I was ugly. If I wasn’t getting asked to take on more duties at work and in my volunteer groups, it was because I was incompetent.
It sounds ridiculous now, but it was my mindset for longer than I care to admit — and I still deal with it from time to time.
I never learned to date. I never knew the rules. I was in a long-term relationship from the time people started doing Wendy’s and a movie with that cute boy from biology class who was allowed to use his mom’s sedan.
Nobody explained to me that you’re supposed to take a long time to respond to text messages to make yourself seem interesting. Nobody told me that you shouldn’t say, “Okay, when?” if somebody asks you to hang out. I would have loved to have known that you should avoid exclamation points (or any form of enthusiasm or excitement) when you’re getting to know a guy because it makes you seem desperate.
All I knew was that I wanted boys to tell me I was cute so that I could feel like I’m cute. When they didn’t, I suffered.
How good news broke my heart
I was talking to a boy I had been hoping to see all day. And I told him that. And he invited me over.
It was great.
Except that he was drunk.
Drunken hangouts can go wrong on all kinds of different levels, but this one was painful. This was a new kind of wrong for me.
This wasn’t a sloppy hook-up, regretful one-night stand, or “waking up in Vegas” sketchy.
This was a guy who I’d been seeing for a while. We’d been talking for a couple months. We’d had dinner twice, drinks once, cuddled several times (…and so on…).
We’d talked about our feelings. I’d told him vaguely about my past, which he didn’t seem to care about. He’d opened up about his new job and how it hadn’t been going so well. I’d told him about how excited I was to move to El Paso and start over.
We’d watched lots of episodes of Bob’s Burgers and a few great movies.
But I figured it was only going to be fun — transient, temporary, while-it-lasts fun. I’d killed any deeper feelings and connection I had to him. I told myself to be realistic and to be practical. Long-distance sucks for everybody, and he’s not even that interested. You’re just something he’s wanting to do right now.
The day before, I’d invited him down to El Paso with me to drop off some of my stuff. He’d declined, although he sent me a couple messages throughout the day saying he’d wished he had gone. I invited him out that night, and he again declined, since he was going out with someone else instead.
So this night, when I did see him, alcohol did the talking.
I really like you. He kept insisting on that. You’re different. You’re the best guy I’ve been interested in. You make me feel special.
Normally, I’m a professional at shrugging this off. But it kept coming.
I’m sorry I didn’t go with you today. But it makes me sad. I don’t want you to move. I want you to stay here.
This was the first I was hearing this.
And I like you so much. You’re so hot, and you’re so nice, and you’re so perfect at everything.
And it hurts to hear that. It shouldn’t hurt to hear that. But it does.
I had to hear it when he was drunk. I had to hear it and question its validity that much more. I don’t need any help picking compliments apart and voiding them — I’m insecure enough to do that on my own.
But it’s enough for the part of me that wants a relationship — that part of me that still feels this overwhelming urge to fall for somebody, to have somebody to experience the fucked-up reality of life with — to latch onto and obsess over. It’s enough to make the idealist part of me say “Fuck the practical” and try to come up with a plan for how I could make long-distance work.
I realized that this is how I can tell that I’m not ready for a relationship — this is how I know that the time isn’t right yet. I shouldn’t rely on hearing compliments to be able to tell myself nice things. I shouldn’t be actively fighting against my feelings. I shouldn’t be so willing to trash the practical side of myself in lieu of the feelings-self as soon as I hear the flowery “but I like you” speech from a drunk guy as I’m making out with his face.
I made the choice to stay single for one year when my last relationship ended. It has now been six months — I’m half-way there. Now I have to choose whether or not I want to keep that choice.
I think this is overwhelming evidence that focusing on myself is the right choice to make.
Want more from me? Feel free to follow me on Twitter or check out my YouTube channel about dating, boys, and being single (and kind of neurotic). I also make funny t-shirts.